Losing an occasional night’s sleep is no big deal, but losing sleep night after night takes its toll on your brain. New research shows that chronic sleep deprivation causes a build-up of beta-amyloid in the brain, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? It’s a common problem as we get older. Prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids are OK for occasional use, but both have their own brain-impairing side effects with long-term use.
Instead of drugs, you might want to try a natural sleeping aid, melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the body’s pineal gland. It helps to regulate your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. Research shows that supplemental melatonin can be helpful for insomnia, especially in older people, who are melatonin-deficient compared to younger people. Supplemental melatonin also seems to be helpful for insomnia related to depression, Alzheimer’s disease and hospitalization, including the insomnia termed “ICU syndrome,” referring to sleep disturbances while in the intensive care unit.
Research has shown that melatonin may have other positive effects, such as helping your body fight cancer, reducing symptoms of menopause and helping with some kinds of headaches.
A common 3 mg dose of melatonin, taken shortly before bedtime, is unlikely to cause a “hangover” effect the following day. You should avoid drinking alcohol or taking any kind of sedative if you use melatonin. You can take it just when you need it. You’ll start to feel sleepy in 20-30 minutes. However, most people find it works better if they take it regularly. It’s fine to experiment to see what works best for you.
The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: Chronic insomnia can hurt your brain, but so can most kinds of pharmaceutical sleeping aids. Melatonin is a natural sleeping aid that can help you sleep without causing harmful side effects.